PAOLO DI CANIO says Sunderland cannot afford to shed any tears at the loss of Craig Gardner for this weekend’s Tyne-Wear derby.
Gardner collected his 10th yellow card of the season in last Sunday’s defeat at Chelsea and the subsequent two-game ban will sideline the midfielder against Newcastle and Di Canio’s home bow against Everton six days later.
The loss of Gardner is another blow to Sunderland’s severely depleted squad after Di Canio was forced to include teenagers Mikael Mandron and Jordan Laidler on the bench at Stamford Bridge.
Although he was named among the substitutes, striker Danny Graham played no part and didn’t even warm up after being hampered by a knee and back problem last week.
And with Titus Bramble missing the game altogether with a calf strain, Di Canio could ill-afford to lose Gardner too, with David Vaughan, Carlos Cuellar, Lee Cattermole and Steven Fletcher all on the treatment table.
But Di Canio believes Sunderland need to remain positive if they are to escape from the relegation dogfight, rather than dwelling on the growing list of key figures in the stands.
Di Canio, who spent almost a minute talking to Gardner after the final whistle on Sunday, said: “It’s obvious that Craig is a key player. He’s one of the fighters on the field.
“He’s one of the leaders of the team, with the way he plays. He leads by example.
“But we don’t have time to cry. We must keep the positive energy around us.
“We lost Danny Graham for the game on Sunday too.
“But the most important thing is to remain positive because we have enough players to get through this spell and get results.”
As Sunderland’s players reassembled at the Academy of Light yesterday following a sixth defeat in eight, Di Canio continued his mission to boost the fitness levels of the handful still available to him.
But Di Canio believes Sunderland’s concentration must also improve after seeing their first half lead reversed within 10 minutes of the re-start against third placed Chelsea.
“We have to extend the attention until the end of the game and we will obviously work on that,” added Sunderland’s new head coach.
“I am more than happy with the way it started in the first half.
“We did very well during that first half, Chelsea didn’t cause us many problems and we scored the goal.
“But we obviously conceded a goal too early in the second half.
“And then eight minutes later, we conceded another. That shouldn’t be possible.”